Mark and Aaron Smucker, Smucker Farms
Looking towards the future has never been hard for grass seed and hazelnut growers Mark and Aaron Smucker of Harrisburg, OR. The father and son have been in business together for the past 12 years, since Aaron returned from Simpson University with a business degree.
“I knew I wanted to farm after college, but really wanted to expand and diversify into a crop that people could eat,” Aaron said. “We researched blueberries and the new Jefferson variety of hazelnut that OSU had just come out with and since 20-30% of our ground was suitable for hazelnuts that’s the direction we went,” he added. Mark and Aaron planted just under 30,000 Jefferson hazelnut trees over the next 5 years, and added the Polly-O variety in 2022.
They currently farm 2,000 acres of grass seed and 225 acres of hazelnuts, and are HGO members. Aaron went on to mention that another reason they chose hazelnuts was they fit well with their grass seed harvest schedule. Mark added, “It just made our harvest season a lot longer.” All joking aside, Mark explained, “Typically the south valley isn’t hazelnut territory, but because some of our best ground has less clay we decided to take a chance, and so far we’re pleased with the harvest and feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Smucker’s process their hazelnuts at an HGO wash plant three miles from their farm, and have been HGO members from the start. “I have the best office in the world,” Aaron said as he described the beauty of standing in their orchards. “The reason I came back to the farm is because the lifestyle of farming is something I wanted to be part of. It’s rare to work with your dad, or even for yourself.” With slower schedules in the winter he is able to coach his kids basketball team and can get off work to participate in their kids activities. He and his wife Catherine have three daughters, ages 7, 4, 2. “There are lots of benefits getting to work for yourself or your family.”
Mark couldn’t agree more, after being raised on the original 102-acre grass seed farm that his grandfather purchased in the 1940’s, and he and his wife Laurie raised their three kids on as well. He is quick to recognize the generations before him that rooted them in the grass seed business that has grown to include several varieties, like annual rye grass, tall fescue, orchard grass, wheat, and white clover to name a few, along with a seed cleaning warehouse that processes 4-5 million pounds of grass seed each year. This includes all of their own crops, as well as a few neighbors, which all is loaded into 50-pound bags. Mark’s cousin, Doug, has been their warehouse manager for 50 years and is their only other full-time employee, outside of a new employee, set to fill that role when Doug retires in the next few years. Smucker Farms hires up to 10 additional part-time equipment operators and warehouse employees during the year to help during harvest season, many of whom are students from their local high school. “The thing I like best about farming is seeing what harvest will bring and the anticipation of what it will be,” Mark said. “We do our best and see what God does with the rest.” He is quick to add that working with his son is a blessing and he enjoys the variety that farming offers every day.
They became Wilco members over 15 years ago, when they first started buying fertilizer from the Wilco plant in Harrisburg. They also buy chemicals and lubricants from Valley Ag. “The fact that it’s farmer-owned is a nice benefit because co-ops have farmers in mind when they make business decisions, which we really appreciate about Wilco. This ensures that farmers get their supplies consistently, at a good rate, with reliable service and Wilco delivers on all fronts,” Aaron said. This co-op philosophy, along with his desire to put his business degree to work on a larger scale, is what made Aaron decide to run for a position on the Wilco board of directors this year. “It’s really important that farmers get involved, so they can have input at all levels,” Aaron said.